There can’t be many people in the world who haven’t tried Guinness. Think of Guinness and you think of Ireland, the beautiful emerald isle, the warm and friendly people and the lively uplifting music. Every time I drink a Guinness I cannot separate my warm memories from my various trips there, it seems that each sip of the black stuff takes me back to those old Irish pubs where I first sampled its delights.
But stouts are much more than just Guinness. There are various different types of stouts all with their own unique history and variation in tastes and strengths. Take Imperial stouts for instance, favoured in Russia and devastatingly strong and rich in texture. Russian stouts are not for everyone, personally they are much too harsh for me, but in the cold bracing Russian winters I would imagine they would be a comfort and a warmer, such a drink is certainly part of Russia’s heritage. Imperial stouts are also sometimes called Baltic Stouts.
But it is in neither of these countries that stout was first brewed. Stout was originally made in England and is synonymous with London in particular and was very popular amongst the London porters of the time, hence the alternative name “porter”. The stouts of the 18th century would have tasted very similar to today’s stouts, however, originally the standard stout would have been a little stronger. What gives the stout its distinctive colour is due to the types of dark roasted malts used when the beer is brewed, other than that it is brewed in essentially the same way as normal beer.
Other less well known types of stout include the milk stout, which were very popular in the UK during the war years, due to the extra goodness that the drinks contained in the times of rationing hardship. However such drinks are now quite old fashioned and have all but fallen into obscurity, though as ever the microbreweries of the UK and US still help to deliver these drinks, offering consumers the opportunity for variation.
The oatmeal stout is made with a small proportion of oats and can lead to the taste of the drink increasing in its bitterness. Such was a standard in some parts of medieval Europe where an even greater amount of oats were used in the brewing process, which must have led to a very bitter tasting drink. If it wasn’t for the recent brewing of its type by the Samuel Smith brewery, in what was nothing more than a project, drinks of this type would have all but died out.
Stouts are sometimes made with a more spicy-style malt which results in a chocolate after-taste and are so known as Chocolate stouts. These types of drinks are especially used at Christmas time as novelty drinks, usually punning on the idea of the Christmas pudding and can even be made with extra spices. Chocolate stouts can also be brewed using real chocolate or cocoa, giving them even more of a chocolate taste.
Most stouts go so well with oysters (probably not the imperial stouts though) and have been enjoyed alongside each other for such a long time, especially in Ireland, that the idea of actually using oysters in the brewing process was hit upon. This obviously led to the label of oyster stouts. However the amount of oysters used in the brewing process is actually quite small and is used only as a sort of token ingredient. By the same principle coffee stouts are can be brewed with a small amount of coffee, but the name initially derived from stouts that used the harsher, coffee tasting malts.
Of course it is true that these variants are in no way as popular as the dry stouts such as Guinness or Murphy’s (and so the term Irish stout is sometimes used) but such variants add to what is a very unique taste in the beer drinking world.